President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I'm glad we have this chance to get together: in fact, I've been wanting to for some time now. Mr Osipov [President of Russia Academy of Sciences] and I happened to meet at the airport and he said: ”It would be nice if you could come for tea,“ – well, here I am. It's so cold out there that I'm hoping there will be tea, and that we can have a heart to heart talk.
I would like to note that the scientific session of the General Assembly of our Academy opened today, a session at which some of you have already spoken. The subject is a very interesting one – unfortunately I wasn't able to attend – and the session was devoted to fundamental and applied problems of the brain. Well, I think that there are many different issues we could discuss, in fact any issue that is of interest to the Academy.
Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to point out that we are already very much in contact with the Academy in our work with the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia's Economy, and of course we stay in touch within the Council for Science, Technology and Education. And it is encouraging that within the Academy there are specialised commissions and councils for the coordination of research on the five technological priorities that I have identified. Adjustments to the programme of fundamental scientific research must be carried out with the same end in view. Incidentally, Mr Osipov has given me a very interesting report, which shows exactly what our opportunities are and where the most interesting, the most advanced research should now be carried out concerning these five priorities.
In my recent Address [to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation], I talked about how we have to raise the country to a fundamentally new stage of development, to a higher stage of social development, and that modernisation is the crucial lever for doing it. In effect, what we're talking about is the modernisation of our entire existence. But when it comes to technological improvements, we have to focus first on the use of innovation. This is an age-old subject for our country, because we have been talking about it for something like the last fifteen years, and – let's be frank – the progress that we have made is not exactly encouraging.
We have tried a lot of different recipes, worked with different organisational and legal formulas, come up with new laws and discussed the subject in various formats. But again, to speak frankly, to this point we have not achieved anything significant in terms of innovation in the normal, everyday sense. We are not laying the foundations for an innovative economy, despite the fact that of course we have done a lot of wonderful research and come up with brilliant ideas. Unfortunately there is still a gap between research conducted in this area and its commercialisation, between its conception and application. This is precisely what I think needs to be the subject of discussion.
Another issue that is probably now on everyone's minds, something ultra-topical and ultra-high profile, in the sense that everyone is talking about it, is the question of climate change. In a couple of days I will be going to Copenhagen where, as you know, there is a conference [of the United Nations on Climate Change]. To this point it has not performed miracles, nothing definite has been achieved, but there is a debate on limiting greenhouse gas emissions and a new agreement in this area.
I don't know if there will be an agreement on a so-called binding treaty, that is, a treaty that will set out our obligations to reduce emissions, but in any case a set of principles and apparently some sort of road map in this area will be agreed. Obviously this is a subject that, no matter how you look at it, must be of concern to everyone, and needs to be based on scientific evidence and objective predictions. There are a lot of such predictions – we have no shortage in this area – and they are extremely varied. Indeed, some of them reflect diametrically opposed points of view. I think it would also be interesting, at least for me, to discuss these issues on the eve of the conference, bearing in mind the obligations that, in effect, we are prepared to undertake, and bearing in mind the economic prospects that await us. Because of course the choice between limiting greenhouse gas emissions and development must involve the introduction of modern technologies of energy-efficient economy. And this constitutes an absolute priority for us, regardless of what we decide about ongoing climate change: whether we regard it as potentially catastrophic or believe that nothing new is happening and that we are witnessing normal cyclical fluctuations that will not affect the situation on the planet.
Another subject that I thought would be appropriate to discuss in this encounter is the role of youth in science. At this meeting there are also a number of young scientists (I don't mean employees of the Presidential Executive Office, I mean those who really are involved in science). I'd be happy to give them the floor, if they wish to speak.
Let me remind you that in the current year, despite the crisis and the serious difficulties that have hit our economy, we have managed to do something positive: we have increased presidential grants for young master's and doctoral students four-folds — from 150 and 250 thousand rubles respectively to 600 thousand and one million rubles. Obviously, this is just a drop in the bucket, but it is nonetheless important to maintain this trend, so that the waves don't push us in the opposite direction, back to the 1990s when everything threatened to come to a standstill.
Two months from now, on the Day of Russian Science, the Russian President's prize for talented young scientists will be given out for the second time. This is also one of the symbolic things that we all agree should definitely continue.
I know that in order to discuss the development of science and support for young scientists, we need to talk about the social sphere, about the economy of science. Let's talk about that too. Of course probably our most acute problem is housing. It's an acute problem not just for researchers but for other young professionals as well. But in light of the fact that young people in science is always a rare thing, we need to think about a system or an integrated solution to this problem.
We have discussed this topic with a large number of colleagues present here. And when I worked in the Cabinet, we initiated a number of housing programmes. Incidentally, we actually managed to do something in this regard, something that worked, but of course I can't pretend that we solved the problem in any sort of large-scale way. There are various mechanisms. Let's discuss them, including the use of the possibilities that exist at the Academy for housing construction. Loans that are now quite widely available can be used for this as well. As you know, I think that we have the potential to resolve this problem completely. Let me illustrate how it might be resolved with an example.
As little as ten years ago, it seemed that we were unable to resolve the problem of providing housing for our soldiers and officers – it was a national disgrace. But we are now in the process of resolving it and we're going to see it through to the end. Without question by next year all officers will be provided with housing. Of course, this required a big effort on the part of the government, additional federal funds and so on, but it does mean that if there is a willingness to deal with this subject and to bring together different sources, we can resolve the most difficult, long-standing problems. So I propose that we discuss social issues for young scholars and scientists as a whole. Of course our conversation need not be restricted to this agenda.
President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yury Osipov: Let me start by thanking you for this meeting and for the chance to discuss our problems. This is very important for us. I want to say first of all that the Academy supports the policies of modernising the country and building a knowledge economy. We realise that success in these undertakings will be crucial for full-fledged development of the Academy itself. This is something we understand very clearly.
In this context, I want to draw your attention to the following. Slide 1 shows the subjects of the Academy General Assembly’s scientific sessions over the last nine years. You can see here that we began discussing nanotechnology and the knowledge economy back in 2002. Incidentally, the Minister of Education and Science was present at those meetings, as were representatives of other ministries. You can see that all subjects addressed by our scientific sessions are clearly related to the process of formulating our country’s strategic development priorities.
Second, the Academy has presented projects, which you spoke about. There are around 170 such projects in the different sectors in which you have called for technological advancement. We presented these projects three months after you made the decision, and we set up our councils and commissions on the modernisation areas at the start of September, as I recall, following the meeting of the [Presidential] Council for Science, Technology and Education.
This is not a complete list of all the projects, because there are more extensive proposals coming in from the Siberian branch [of the Academy], but at any rate, what we have so far covers all of the different modernisation areas. Item six is new materials, and we think this is a sector that interlinks with everything else dealt with here, and so we need to make every possible effort to develop these programmes.
The Academy has been very actively involved in drafting and carrying out expert evaluation of important state projects in the country’s development interests. Slide 3 gives a few examples. In all, the Academy has taken part in preparing dozens of very important state documents. What makes this possible is the fact that the Academy’s research activities cover a broad range of scientific fields, and I would make the claim that the Academy is a repository of the kind of deep and wide-ranging scientific culture that we need to successfully carry out multidisciplinary undertakings.
All of the projects on technological advancement are multidisciplinary in nature. What I am trying to say is that the Academy’s knowledge and culture enable it to act as a sort of tracking system for the state, a system tracking a huge field – the ocean of scientific knowledge.
Now, looking at how we work, of course we work, Mr President, in accordance with the science and technology priorities that you and the Government have approved. This is the programme for the Academy of Sciences’ fundamental research.
I want to draw your attention to the following. Work related to the national modernisation objectives makes up a large part of this programme, which was approved a year ago. It accounts for around 23 percent. We made some adjustments to this programme following the joint meeting of the Commission for Modernisation [and Technological Development of Russia's Economy], the Council for Science [Technology and Education], and the Academy’s senior management on October 7. We will submit these amendments when the coordinating council meets on December 18. We expect that the share of financial support for modernisation-related scientific research will come to slightly more than 36 percent, which represents a significant increase. But I want to add in this respect that rapid and effective work on specific projects will require serious additional support from the industries concerned and from businesses. This is essential. Without this added support we will not be able to achieve results because the Academy’s budget and state support alone are not enough. We need to find solutions to this problem.
Now I want to say a few words about the Academy’s current situation. The next two slides show the Academy’s structure in the different scientific fields and its regional branches.
We have nine departments. In 2003, there were 18 departments, but the Academy’s restructuring and modernisation brought the number down to nine. Actually, this was not done for modernisation’s sake, but because so many scientific problems these days are multidisciplinary in nature, and it was therefore a useful thing to bring all the different scientific fields together in a smaller number of departments.
Down below you see the three big regional branches. You have visited them and so know them well – the Siberian, Ural and Far East Regional Branches. The figures here indicate the number of research institutions – 352 institutes. There are a total of 3,000 institutes around the country, as I recall, but the 352 indicated here are those that come under the Academy of Sciences.
We also have scientific councils that come under the Presidium, and regional scientific centres. Since 2002, a lot of effort has been made to support science. Financing for civil science increased substantially in 2002–2008. This was thanks to the pilot project that we discussed and launched then, and also thanks to the joint efforts of the Science Ministry, Presidential Executive Office and the Academy itself. The pilot project has brought a five-fold increase in scientists’ wages over a three-year period. The average wage now comes to around 30,000 rubles a month [around $1,000].
At the same time, the Academy has fully carried out its commitments to make a 20-percent cut in employees whose wages are financed by the government. Indeed, over these years we have made substantial progress in optimising the Academy’s structure, improving discipline in scientific activity, and putting in order planning and evaluation of individual scientists’ and institutes’ results. I do not think this is the moment to start a discussion on evaluation of scientific results, but there are different points of view on how we should go about this work.
Unfortunately, the crisis has hampered our efforts to resolve two key problems: fundamentally modernising our equipment and technology, and launching the programme we spoke about, namely, the programme to build housing for young people.
From all that has been said it is clear that the Academy faces a problematic situation with resources provision. But we understand the difficulties the country is going through at the moment and are taking measures to get through this financial pause, if we could call it that, with minimal losses. I think my colleagues will add words of their own on this point.
I also want to say that over the last decade, the Academy’s scientists have produced many outstanding results in a broad range of modern scientific fields. Many of our scientists have had their work recognised by the most prestigious international and Russian prizes. We are not talking of just a few exceptional cases, but of several dozen major international prizes received over this time.
I think the Academy will remain Russia’s main scientific centre, and it is no exaggeration to say that it enjoys great respect and recognition around the world.
Mr President, there is one more question I would like to raise, but I would prefer, if you agree, to perhaps discuss it on another occasion, in narrower format, with you personally. This question concerns the directions for developing fundamental science in Russia. There are some issues of considerable concern to us. I am not suggesting that we should start taking hasty steps, but would like for us to hold a calm discussion on this problem.
Dmitry Medvedev: In response to the last remark on how fundamental science can be developed, I can say this: today, I have come here as your guest. To discuss fundamental science, we can take a different approach: a smaller group of you can come visit me, and we can talk.
It would be interesting to discuss this in a less formal, less public format. We could simply have a heart-to-heart talk.
I just want to make a brief comment. We will discuss material and technical resources and housing construction later, as this is a separate topic, though no less important. I simply want to say a couple of words about maintaining momentum in the areas where we are seeing technological breakthroughs. You prepared that list and passed it on to us; now, we are also analysing it. The list is long and serious. It features 169 projects. We will definitely need to work on it, since it contains many interesting points, according to my colleagues in the Presidential Executive Office and in the Cabinet. And there are some points that, at the very least, require us to work jointly. There are also areas that we believe may require a more precise interpretation and better cooperation. For example, as far as I understand, none of these projects offer opportunities for international cooperation. I think this is a topic that we need to discuss, and perhaps fill this gap.
A second topic, as you very justly noted, concerns the customers ordering research, because here we will not be able to cover everything with only the Academy’s and federal budget funds. We must look into ways to organise co-financing with businesses. In discussing these specific areas of work within the framework of the Commission that I am heading, I think we must spend some time on this and look into how we can provide corresponding funding to virtually every project that we will agree to work on from here on. In other words, we simply need to identify our sources of financing.
And there are a few other points on this list that I think we will need to discuss separately with the Presidential Executive Office and the Cabinet. But we are working with the list, and I would like to thank you for it.
Mr Laverov, please, go ahead.
Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolai Laverov: Mr President, colleagues,
The issue I would like to bring up is very poignant today: climate change and general problems relating to the decisions currently being made in Copenhagen. The situation there is complicated, so I would like to very briefly lay out the essence of the positions that exist within the Russian Academy of Sciences in regard to climate change, as well as the measures that I believe should be taken in order to lessen the negative consequences of climate change.
For almost fifteen years now, we have been running a programme called Global Environmental and Climate Change. It was launched long ago, following the Spitak earthquake, when we had many negative things going on; later, we modernised the programme. Now, it is referred to as the Natural Disasters and Emergencies Programme, and climate-related issues are actually one of its components. In other words, we do not have a separate programme dealing with climate change; rather, it falls into this greater programme.
Currently, we have an agreement on implementing this programme with nearly every international institution dealing with this problem.
First of all, we have an agreement with the United States; we are working with the U.S. constantly and we hold regular conferences, the latest of which was held on the 50th anniversary of our relations establishment [the signing of a cooperation agreement between the USSR Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences] in June of this year. We have also been working with NATO, Europe, and France in particular; over the course of the year, we held several dozen seminars that took place here, as well as some conferences and a major international conference. The issue of climate change is often discussed by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences from various angles; the Presidium has reviewed this problem and its various aspects at least four times this year.
In order not to waste any time, I want to emphasise that there are some well-developed climate-related hypotheses (perhaps some of them can even be called theories of the climate formation), which are based on many sciences. This is a multidisciplinary field, involving first and foremost geological and Earth sciences, which differentiate periods of glaciation and warming, both systematic and separating one phase from another. Physics and astronomy are also involved, as they research the involvement of the Sun, especially solar-terrestrial relationships. Finally, oceanic studies really help us to better understand these issues. It is very important to study the biospheric processes in soils, peats, swamplands, and forest systems – in other words, everything related to biota and to contemporary human activity, including ploughing, sowing, and producing various microbal flora that enters the atmosphere, as well as the new systems that have created (major reservoirs and lakes), and finally, an enormous amount of emissions of various combustibles.
I would like to note that we produce about 15 billion tonnes of conventional fuel emissions every year. Over the last 20 years, humans have produced about as much fuel emissions as we had had in all the previous history of humankind. No doubt, this cannot help but affect greenhouse gases, and the negative consequences that we are now seeing through climate change are also related to this high level of emissions generated first and foremost by energy and utilities sectors.
What are the theoretical foundations for our concepts? As you know and as I already explained at the Security Council, there were some wells drilled in Antarctica and certain other locations such as Greenland, lake Baikal and various other lakes. The data obtained through such drilling and analysed on the basis of the modern age measuring methods proved that over the lifetime of the Earth, it has experienced systematic alternations between warm and cold periods. Indeed, for the first time, we have introduced the latest concept of a ‘warm era’, called a Holocene, which lasts ten thousand years. Proponents of theories explaining climate change by so-called natural processes insist that over that period of ten thousand years the major peak in warming occurred five thousand years ago when temperatures reached their Atlantic maximum, or Atlantic optimum, as it is sometimes called, or, in other words, the maximum surface temperature level. Now we witness commencement of the global cooling, but it involves certain fluctuations in warmth.
What are the key elements serving as the foundation of this theory? They include precession, or changes in the inclination of the Earth’s axis of rotation toward the plane in which it orbits around the Sun. During this Atlantic period the Earth’s axis of rotation was perpendicular to the plane but later the axis inclination began to change thus causing climate changes. The climate also depends on solar activity. There is a direct correlation between climate change and solar activity over the last fifty years.
I would also like to emphasise that in considering this climate change trend as leading toward a cooler period (with occasional upward temperature fluctuations), it must be said that we have observed a lot of negative effects in the last 30 years. We see an increase in the size and number of glacial lakes, a reduced soil stability in permafrost areas. In the Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems the variety of predators living there has changed significantly. In various regions river flows increased, spring floods shifted to earlier dates and water temperatures in rivers and lakes went up. There is a much sharper regional factor in climate change as compared to, say, the Middle Ages. We are seeing earlier spring and earlier foliage expansion and birds migration, as well as a change in the areals of many plants, animals, etc. Water plants and zooplankton abundance in lakes as well as river fish areals fluctuations and earlier migration have been recorded along with many other problems. The large cities experience air pollution.
The overall assessment of the climatic situation, particularly in light of the coastal encroachments and similar phenomena, by those who claim we are heading toward environmental catastrophe, offers disastrous characteristics of the climate change. Most of the scientists [of the Russian Academy of Sciences] do not share this point of view. They agree that in fact the fluctuations and changes result partially from natural processes. However, it is also clear that the changes observed, which I mentioned, are caused by human activities too.
Thus, we suggest a number of steps that would significantly improve the situation in Russia. As I already reported to you, launching combined cycle gas turbines at heating stations would improve the situation dramatically both in terms of extraordinary energy efficiency and low emissions. Next, turbine systems could be installed at many heating stations, and introducing the latest machinery in general would be very good for reducing fuel consumption.
I would also like to emphasise that in my view, we must take a balanced position in all these discussions. This position would mean striving to reduce emissions in any circumstances, as this would help us reach our economic goals. We should not take on any strict and difficult obligations, but at the same time, we really must activate a series of measures to implement innovative technologies, especially in petrochemistry and energy engineering. Finally, we must try to make contacts with nations that are truly trying to deal with these issues.
Our thorough discussions show that the unused quotas Russia has under Kyoto Protocol range between 20 and 30 percent in different evaluations. I fully share your views; in any event, by striving to lower emissions, we introduce innovations and reach positive results. While pursuing this line, we do not overdramatise the situation, nor offer disastrous predictions, nor trigger any panic, but rather continue our efforts adjusting them to trends that we cannot change.
Please pardon me for my long-windedness.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is quite relevant right now, Mr Laverov.
If I understood your position correctly (as I understand, this is a kind of synthetic position reflecting the general attitudes toward this topic within the Academy of Science), on the one hand, we do not need to panic, we do not need to throw ourselves overboard, and we do not need to say that all’s messed up. On the other hand, we can’t just sit there and do nothing; instead, we need to be in the mainstream of changes currently taking place in all countries, and we must try to use these measures to resolve our economic problems, in part through the creation of an energy-efficient economy.
This is probably a very sensible position, and it is true that I myself stated that regardless of the nature of the processes currently underway, nothing bad will come of the steps we are currently taking – they can only be beneficial. Although naturally, there are some different points of view, and they will most likely continue to vary.
Not long ago, there was a particular wave of interest and discussion in regard to some confidential documents that were posted on the Internet. Some even tried to stick a label on us, claiming that it was all our fault, sort of ‘we are the cause of all the problems, so we are art and part of it too.’ But I am interested in your opinion. What do you think about that discussion and the documents that were circulated and debated within scientific circles?
Nikolai Laverov: I believe that unfortunately, the individuals who criticize too much and simply overestimate the negative consequences are actually driven by political principles and commercial interests. This is exactly what happened with the coolants, a problem we had to tackle later. We got rid of them, but the causes behind the ozone layer disintegration turned out to be entirely different. And I see the same thing happening here.
I agree with the key message of your speech and I fully support it.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is not the Y2K problem. You must remember this topic, a rather interesting one. A lot of money was made on this sort of hysteria when some people tried to persuade us that there will be global computer failures in the year 2000, every electronic system will simply collapse. And many major companies were quick to make money on this. Naturally, when the clock rolled over into 2000, nothing happened, but the money was already earned and divided. However, today’s situation is a different story.
Nikolai Laverov: I can add that I just came back from the United States, where I met with many specialists, including from the Academy of Sciences. Television there was full of harsh words addressed against Gore, who has been leading a real offensive you could say, taking a line that is heading in a disastrous direction.
Dmitry Medvedev: People are criticising Gore?
Nikolai Laverov: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: He has already won everything, all the prizes you can win. What does it matter who takes what line?
Yury Osipov: We had a real battle here at the Academy with David King, an aide to the British prime minister. We were discussing the Kyoto Protocol and took the point of view that it lacks a scientific basis, but he demanded that we give it all our support. He called the Prime Minister’s office and tried to intimidate us, saying that we would put an end to all the talks and so on. The pressure was immense. For some reason, no one wants to listen to a reasonable point of view.
Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Laverov was entirely right when he said that this matter involves a lot of intertwined interests. In addition to scientific interest and scientific approaches, this issue sees a heavy dose of politics; furthermore, business interests begin to get involved, and finally, there is the emotional factor, which always makes the situation even more heated. By the way, speaking of businesses, I actually think that they are a positive element in this situation, because businesses usually think pragmatically. We should not get hysterical. And talking about the future and implementing energy efficient technologies, as well as creating an energy efficient economy, we should be clear about the fact that we are not the only country that faces this challenge – we are simply standing at the very beginning of this path. I am in regular contact with European leaders and they all feel that they are facing a lot of problems in this area.
The reason I bring up businesses is that in this situation, I hope businesses will set clear-headed trends in this area, since we all know that if the business community does not show an interest in developing energy efficiency, nothing will happen, and all of these ideas will remain purely theoretical. But if businesses figure out how they can make money on this, within reasonable limits, then there will be truly major economic results, and as far as we can tell, that is indeed the trend that is currently underway. This is why the Americans are putting so much energy toward this issue. American businesses are interested – in other words, they have seen that they can change something in this area, and as a result, make money there.
Nikolai Laverov: Can I make one more comment?
Dmitry Medvedev: Of course. This is an interesting topic, especially on the eve of the Copenhagen conference.
Nikolai Laverov: I can say that in general, businesses are against oil and gas.
This can be seen quite clearly because we are all agents, parts of this business, and I can say that our opportunities are underrated, although I do not want to discuss it in depth here today. On the other hand, businesses that involve moving away from these [more traditional] sources [of energy] are still far from being efficient. But at the same time, this can disturb the process of developing and using new oil and gas sources, different raw shale containing heavy oil, and others. In other words, I can very clearly see a sort of damp-down on countries with petroleum potential.
Dmitry Medvedev: It is certainly true that this is not a hydrocarbon-friendly issue and we need to address it calmly, but we must also be capable of seeing the problems before us, and we must not let others trick us here because we understand how much our economic development depends on this component – at least for the moment. Naturally, we must think about creating new sources of energy, and we have made this one of our priorities. We have to develop alternative energy, but we must not forget hydrocarbon energy either. Because if this becomes a witch hunt, then first of all, nothing good will come of it, because nobody will get into it. And second, it could really be a threat to our economy since this is a very subtle balance of economic interests and other matters. I agree with you here that we must keep this in mind for the future.
ACADEMICIAN YURY IZRAEL, DIRECTOR OF THE GLOBAL CLIMATE AND ECOLOGY INSTITUTE UNDER THE FEDERAL SERVICE FOR HYDROMETEOROLOGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING AND THE RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES: I just want to say a couple of words about specific issues. Hundreds, thousands of people have indeed gathered in Copenhagen now to decide the future of the Kyoto Protocol or a new agreement. They chose the traditional solution already chosen by the Kyoto Protocol, and which, as Mr Osipov said just now, is not backed up by science, and is very lengthy and costly. In this respect, as a scientist, I think the Copenhagen meeting will end in failure essentially, because they are examining just one road – the traditional road of fighting greenhouse gases.
This really is a very lengthy and costly combat that will require at least $19 trillion and centuries of effort just to achieve a degree of stabilisation. But there are also methods and technologies not related to greenhouse gases. Our country was the first to use them, and now they are appearing in many other countries too.
I have had the opportunity of informing you about these technologies and attending several conferences on these matters. You gave your approval and issued instructions and things started moving. But now everything has come to a standstill. The thing is, though, for psychological and objective reasons we cannot simply abandon this matter completely.
We scientists do not expect global warming to bring great cataclysms, but it has its share of both pluses and minuses. It is something we need to work on. Given the new technologies being developed now, it would probably be good to hold a conference. What would be better than a conference, at which all the different points of view could be heard? In my view, if we’re talking about science, I think that at this stage science is the best thing that could help to find future solutions to the climate problem.
Dmitry Medvedev: I am very pleased that I brought up this issue here with you. Instead of a series of dry speeches, we had a brief discussion, and now, when I speak in Copenhagen, I will be well-prepared and I will be able to quote various positions, including ones that I heard here in our Academy of Sciences. This really is good, and it helps us keep our eye on the picture.
This really has become such a hot topic today that many of my colleagues – leaders of other nations, including some major ones – are dealing with it very actively and are even flying enormous distances for the sole purpose of discussing this issue. The last APEC summit in Singapore is one such example. Mind you, Singapore is not something round the corner, it’s virtually the equator, and some leaders, including the organisers of the conference and the prime minister, spent the entire night flying to Singapore just to spend 20 minutes at breakfast to discuss this topic.
Why am I telling you this? Because this example indicates the extent of interest toward this matter, and illustrates the kinds of discussions it elicits. And I can already smell money in all of that – otherwise, the issue would not involve such zealousness. This would not be happening if it were just a general discussion; global leaders who are not scientists would not be getting involved so deeply in these matters, when they have so many other real-world problems to deal with. But since this is the case, it means that we are dealing with big-time politics and big money; at the same time, however, we are addressing a challenge that we must all face together. And the views you expressed do not contradict any of this.
I think that holding a conference is a good idea. We have talked about it and will come back to it.
I think it is time that we older people let the young scientists have their say. You have the floor, Mr Kolachevsky.
SENIOR RESEARCHER AT THE LEBEDEV PHYSICAL INSTITUTE OF THE RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, DOCTOR OF PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES NIKOLAI KOLACHEVSKY: Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.
I will start by introducing myself. I work at the Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This is a renowned institute. Seven Nobel laureates worked within its walls. I carry out research and have my own group of students and post-graduates.
In general, I want to note that students and post-graduates have been showing much more interest in science over the last 3, or 4, or perhaps even 5 years. We, at any rate, have people queuing to get a postgraduate place in our institute. In the laboratory we have plenty of people from fourth-year students to those defending their masters and candidate theses. What attracts them in general? In general, if there is a research group already working, if there is a creative team with clearly and correctly formulated missions, students are ready to join and take an active part in the work. Of course we all hope they will have bright scientific and career prospects. Looking at my own situation I can say that people in the roughly 35–50 age group – most of my fellow students, for example – have gone abroad. I cannot make a broad judgement but can only state what I see in this one narrow field, but if even just 20 percent of them stayed here, our science, and our institute in particular, would look different today. We would have a lot more active centres.
Things in general are organised today around small active centres that attract young people and develop into established scientific teams. I hope that in the future they will develop further into scientific schools.
Speaking of the procedures for selecting young people, I can say that in general, Russia has immense potential. Sometimes it’s quite simply amazing that you get these talented and interested young people turning up from the farthest corners of the country, and you can't help but wonder sometimes where all this talent comes from. The task is to cultivate them, help them progress through the different academic degrees. This is very important. But just as important, and immensely difficult, is what to do with them next. This is a big problem abroad too. In other words, someone finishes their Ph.D. or obtains a degree, and there are various roads they can take from there.
In our situation today, one of our most serious problems, or biggest tasks, rather, is how to keep hold of these active and interested young people. They do not have to be in science. I am not saying that they should all join scientific institutions. They could also join companies’ research and development departments, for example. But these good specialists are our treasure, and if we do not treat them right they will slip through our fingers and we will lose them for good.
The equipment issue is problematic, even with all the support we get, the financing we obtain, and the presidential grants. Unfortunately, modern equipment is very expensive all around the world, and today’s globalisation makes it impossible to do what was absolutely normal 20 or 30 years ago, when someone would take a soldering iron and fix or make this or that. It is hard to stay competitive in these conditions.
I am not saying that we need to buy everything. That would also not be the right approach. But globalisation, unfortunately – and science is an extremely globalised field – simply obliges us to take this strategy: when we exchange specialists, here we have one set of opportunities, and over there the opportunities are different.
Dmitry Medvedev: I would like to ask you a couple of questions. I understand what you are saying about exchanges and the globalised nature of modern science. Of course we have many problems in science, but other countries do too. We should not imagine that all is bad here, while over there things are absolutely spotless. But you have indeed mentioned one of the most serious problems that arose in the 1990s, namely, young scientists heading abroad, especially those at the most productive working age. This is a sad thing. You also noted that over the last 3–5 years, young people are showing growing interest in scientific research and pursuing postgraduate studies. What do you think we should do to keep these young people here?
Nikolai Kolachevsky: I think the recipes are quite clear really. Of course, our country’s huge size presents certain problems in this respect. If we are talking about people who have already defended their doctoral theses, for example…
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, they are the ones who have already established a solid record for themselves, of course.
Nikolai Kolachevsky: Yes, but it is a whole problem for them to find a way to settle down, even just temporarily, perhaps, and not even necessarily in Moscow or St Petersburg, but close to scientific centres where they would find interesting work.
Dmitry Medvedev: You are talking about housing near scientific centres?
Nikolai Kolachevsky: Yes, this is a big problem.
Another big problem (I would not even name wages or something like that as the biggest problem) is that of interest. Young people have to feel they have the opportunity to become leaders, even if only of a small team, but to feel they are leaders and really involved in particular fields of research.
The presidential grants are important, of course, and a good incentive, but organising one’s own group, say, and carrying out some research is nonetheless very hard to do.
Dmitry Medvedev: So, there are two ingredients that will help to motivate young people to develop their talents and work here at home, not necessarily in their alma mater, but in other institutes and academic establishments too.
The first is housing, and the second is real and foreseeable opportunities for career growth. If we offer these two ingredients, talented people will stay and work.
Nikolai Kolachevsky: I think these are the main things. You were very right in speaking of ‘foreseeable opportunities for growth’, that is, when people can see that the situation depends upon their own actions and not on external circumstances such as this or that not being delivered on time, not being obtained.
Science requires a lot of patience by its very nature. In business it is normal enough that if a couple of weeks or six months pass and you still don’t have results then you have to adapt, revise your plans. But in science I would say that three years is a normal period before you can start to judge the results. There is a lot more inertia at work. You have to try to stop people from getting disappointed and wanting to give up.
Then there is the issue of scientific schools. Unfortunately, nature stops for no one and our great teachers are growing old now. But young people like to be part of a team. In other words, we need to establish clusters of some sort. People seldom get very far alone. But we have to have the right conditions for developing these clusters.
Yes, scientists come and go, but if we compare our situation to, say, the links in place between Europe and America, we see that they have a far more mobile community. Of course, the internet is a great tool for learning about what is going on, and there are excellent articles, but the chance to actually travel, demonstrate one’s own abilities, learn about what is happening elsewhere, is an experience on another level.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, this is fair comment on mobility within the education and science sectors. Really, this comes down to a question of reviving old habits, because, paradoxical though it might sound, there was a fair amount of scientific mobility within the Soviet Union. True, the ideological barriers in place made it not so easy to travel abroad, though there were people who did so. But within the country itself there was mobility. Tickets were quite cheap and planes and trains could take you to every part of the country. We need to rebuild these opportunities. This is something for the country as a whole to work on, and it is definitely an important task.
I agree with what you say about the internet. The internet as a source of information can never give a full picture of a person. As for the question of positive examples, we all know how young people reason, after all, when deciding to stay in science or go off into business of some kind. In this situation, a lot depends on the teachers they have. They include people with years of experience behind them, leaders of scientific schools, and also successful young scientists. If young people look at these young scientists and think, “yes, I’d like to become like him”, this is a positive example. But if they look at these young scientists and see only problems, they end up saying to themselves, “do I really need all that? Maybe I’d be better off in some other field, somewhere where I can earn money”.
Of course, we could discuss this subject endlessly.
Nikolai Kolachevsky: I fully agree with you. Talking about people who go abroad or return home, if the young people see that successful scientists (we have successful people working at Moscow State University, in the Academy’s institutes, in universities) are working in Russia, though they have every opportunity for moving abroad if they wanted, they realise there must be some reason for this.
Dmitry Medvedev: They ask themselves why these scientists stay.
Nikolai Kolachevsky: Yes, they realise that something is motivating these people to stay, and this prompts various thoughts that are good and right in principle.
Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, I agree with you here.
VICE PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AND DIRECTOR OF THE RAS INSTITUTE OF PROBLEMS OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS SERGEI ALDOSHIN: In my speech, I would like to briefly touch on innovative activity and talk about the Russian Academy of Sciences’ place in the innovation system, as well as its participation in the development of breakthrough technologies in the five areas you spoke about.
Since 2002, the Russian Academy of Sciences has created a fairly strong innovative infrastructure. It has developed and adapted the principles of innovative practices. Now, we are working out a general development plan for the Academy, which takes into account the innovation component. We have created a special [correction] council and innovations and intellectual property division. It is very important that currently, the Academy implements special programmes in priority areas of fundamental research on a competitive basis. We have a target programme for supporting innovation.
In this regard, it is very important that we now have very good cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Development. We have launched our first business incubator, a technology park within the Academy. We are currently working on a special target programme with the Ministry of Economic Development for innovative infrastructure development. As part of the agreement with Rosnanotech, we are creating a special technology transfer centre responsible for selecting as early as in academic institutes of projects that may be of interest to businesses, and then jointly work on completing them.
Law No. 217 [on the establishment by state-funded scientific and educational institution of small businesses to implement the results of intellectual activity] is now in effect, and the scientific community knows about your role in passing this law. This is very important because the law will make the use of the Academy’s research results and works in small business transparent. Clearly, the law involves some compromises and it will require a number of amendments, but what’s truly important is that we have taken the first step. The main problem that needs to be resolved is that of creating opportunities to use the effective results of intellectual activity and corresponding intellectual rights. There are still contradictions in the Civil Code, the Budget Code, and in bookkeeping operations that are currently preventing the creation of small businesses, but today, the Academy is already creating 88 small businesses, and we hope that this process will continue.
It needs to be said that the budget financing for the Academy has a highly specific purpose. Naturally, we cannot expect these funds to serve as a basis for creating major projects ready for implementation, because if that were to happen, the Audit Chamber would accuse the Academy of improper use of budget resources. Furthermore, the volume of the funding itself is insufficient for creating high technologies.
The next slide shows the structure and approach we are implementing with the development institutions in order to launch these projects. They include various ministry programmes, first and foremost the RosScience federal target programme (which is a very important direction), as well as state corporations, first and foremost Rosnanotech, and the business community. In this situation, it is very good that a state commission on technical modernisation has been created. I think that this commission will allow us to launch some major projects like the Fund for the Support and Development of Small Business [in the Scientific and Technological Sphere], and we have seen a great deal of success in this area, with truly big technological modernisation projects.
You are absolutely right noting that despite certain successes, we are not seeing very many large projects being implemented. Recently, a plant was commissioned in Tatarstan based on research done at the Academy; this is the first synthetic oil production plant. At a recent presidium of the Academy, we looked into projects related to medical equipment that are already being implemented in our nation and abroad. And it is very important (as you said) that the Academy has presented its suggestions regarding major projects. I will just bring up one such example, because I think my colleagues will also be discussing this issue. I would like to talk about a technology that might give us new fuels. This is a third-generation technology for deep processing of carbon materials, such as oil, gas, biofuels, and coal. It should be said that the first two generations of this technology were also developed by the Academy. Now the Academy offers a third-generation technology, a technology fundamentally different from the first two: rather than using different processing technologies for different raw materials, this third generation technology can be used to turn everything into one form of raw matter, which can then be refined using the traditional technologies into usable products such as fuel.
I have to say that there is nothing like it in the West. This is particularly relevant because this technology will allow us to change over to energy products from renewable feedstocks, a very important area indeed, as it enables us to control and stabilise our СО2 emissions. The renewable feedstocks are a specially prepared biomass, particularly woodworking and agricultural waste.
Thus, in doing basic research, the Academy has already become a link in the innovation chain. We are ready to take on the responsibility for selecting the basic projects that really can advance our nation.